Beijingers unwind in 'hush hour' as community libraries spread

Updated: May 8, 2024 By Xin Wen China Daily Print
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Readers sit in a comfortable area on the first floor of the Fangzhuang Art and Culture Center in Fengtai district, Beijing in April. ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY

Amid the hustle and bustle of a big city like Beijing, sitting in the sunshine, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a relaxing book — even on the weekend — can seem like a luxury.

To address the challenge of finding "hush hour", more community libraries, some built with funding from local governments and the ingenuity and dedication of residents, are mushrooming across the country's capital.

By 2021, more than 90 percent of the city's population had easy access to community libraries at 6,830 locations, according to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism. The bureau said its goal is to have complete coverage of the city by 2035.

Peng Yanshu, director of the Fangzhuang Art and Culture Center, is one local who took matters into her own hands. The 36-year-old helped set up a community reading center after moving from Beijing's northwestern Haidian district to southern Fengtai district in 2021. She was concerned the area near her new home lacked art and cultural facilities.

In the 1990s, Fangzhuang was known as a wealthy neighborhood and housed the city's largest and most upscale residential complexes. However, in recent decades it went into decline as the northern and eastern parts of Beijing underwent rapid development.

Peng's first impression of the neighborhood was of buildings with peeling plaster and outdated facilities, interspersed with restaurants and the occasional mom-and-pop shops.

However, in recent years, affordable house prices have attracted buyers who are willing to commute, while the original community is aging and demanding more cultural offerings.

Peng said the urgent need to build an art and culture center encouraged her to mobilize all possible resources to get the job done. "The site initially served as a vegetable market. It later fell into disrepair, became a desolate space, and had an unfinished building on it when I took over the project in July 2021," she said.

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